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Cleaning up SCV properties

Posted: August 2, 2009 10:26 p.m.
Updated: August 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A sign warns of the condition of the former Whittaker-Bermite property in Saugus. The nearly 1,000-acre site is bordered by Soledad Canyon Road, Railroad Avenue and Golden Valley Road. Cleanup of perchlorate contamination is being overseen by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Dotted among the tract housing, industrial parks and canyons of the Santa Clarita Valley are remnants of the past - a past that involved manufacturing and testing toxin-producing products.

In many cases the potential for pollution was simply unknown at the time.

In other cases, the Santa Clarita Valley was considered remote enough to be a "safe" place for testing.

Both situations applied to the nearly 1,000-acre swath of land now in the center of town, where for decades munitions were manufactured and tested at Bermite, later Whittaker-Bermite.

Today, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control is overseeing the cleanup of soil contaminated with perchlorate, a rocket fuel byproduct linked to human thyroid problems. Officials have said that cleanup will continue for several more years.

The Whittaker-Bermite property lies south of Soledad Canyon Road between Bouquet Canyon Road and Golden Valley Road.

Several groundwater wells near the site were polluted with perchlorate as well; the Castaic Lake Water Agency is in charge of groundwater cleanup.

Next month, the agency will turn on a new pipeline between the Whittaker-Bermite property and its Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant, pumping and treating water from the contaminated wells, said agency manager Dan Masnada.

"The treatment of water will go on for decades," he said Friday.

Cleanup of Whittaker-Bermite remains Santa Clarita officials' only major contamination concern, city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said.

Keysor-Century Corp.
Just west of the Whittaker-Bermite property, the 35-acre Saugus Industrial Center was home to the Keysor-Century Corp.

Between the 1950s and 2002, Keysor-Century manufactured resins used in everything from record albums to credit cards.

In February 2002, agents from the FBI and Environmental Protection Agency raided Keysor-Century's headquarters after a lengthy investigation, and the company finally pleaded guilty to releasing toxins into the air and water in violation of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, as well as lying to federal officials.

In late June, now-owner Hank Arklin said the site is "within a hair of being completely cleaned up."

Placerita/Sand canyons
Heading east from Whittaker-Bermite, two plots of land bear the marks of industry.

Recently purchased by the city, 140 acres in Placerita Canyon were home to Special Devices Inc., which made explosives for the air bags used in automotive safety systems, as well as explosive-release charges for the doors on the Mercury space capsules.

About 1 1/2 acres of the property are contaminated with low levels of vinyl chloride and potassium perchlorate, which Department of Toxic Substances Control officials have said do not pose a threat to humans and will dissipate over time.

A few miles away on Sand Canyon Road, bordering the Angeles National Forest, 20 acres were used by Space Ordnance Systems from the 1960s to the early 1990s.

In 1984, investigators found the groundwater was contaminated as a result of hazardous waste management violations, according to DTSC documents.

Remediation of the pollution was wrapped up in 1992.

Long-lasting effects
At least one local environmentalist believes while the past will not be revisited, its effects are long-lasting.

"We have so many chemicals that are still residual," said Lynne Plambeck, president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. "We didn't even realize they were carcinogens until it was too late."

She said the valley is unlikely to see the types of pollution that occurred in the past because of a combination of stricter regulations and better oversight.

That sentiment was echoed by Maria Gutzeit, president of the Newhall County Water District board. She added that vigilance is key.

"I don't think we should be lax in assuming we don't have any problems," she said. "We really need to make sure all businesses large and small stay in compliance.

"There's so much we have to monitor. We'll probably be cleaning up ... for at least 30 years."

When it comes to public knowledge, Plambeck and Gutzeit said it's important for residents to pay attention to news reports and public documents, and do research to know what's going on in their valley.

"The point is to continue to be aware," said City Councilwoman Laurene Weste.


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